5 Ways to Avoid Medication Errors

Nurse explaining medication to patient

Source: Thinkstock

Here are the sobering statistics

  • 1.5 million Americans injured from medication errors every year
  • 7,000 Americans die from preventable adverse drug events every year
  • Medication errors that result in harm are the number one cause of hospital deaths
  • At least one medication error occurs per hospital per patient every day

Don’t let it happen to you

Medication administration is a complex process that involves prescribing, transcribing, dispensing, administering, and monitoring how it responds to you. Errors can happen at any stage and unfortunately many are not intercepted.

Here’s what you can do

  1. Bring all your medicines and supplements to all your doctor visits.

    Put them in a bag or ‘brown bag’ them – including herbs, vitamins, and supplements. Ask your doctor to update his records based on what you’re currently taking.

  2. Tell your doctor about any allergies, side effects, or adverse reactions you’ve had to medicines.

    This helps your doctor avoid prescribing you a medicine that could harm you.

  3. If your doctor writes down a prescription for you, make sure you can read it.

    If you cannot read your doctor’s handwriting, the pharmacist might not be able to either.

  4. Ask your doctor questions. Don’t be shy.

    • What is this medicine for?
    • How do I take it and for how long?
    • What side effects are likely? What do I do if they happen to me?
    • Is this medicine safe to take with the other medicines and supplements I’m already taking?
    • What food, drink, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?
  5. Ask your pharmacist questions. Don’t be shy.

    • Is this the medicine that my doctor prescribed?
    • Can you verify the dosage and frequency? How do I take it?
    • Example:  Does ‘four times daily’ mean taking a dose every 6 hours around the clock or just when I’m awake?
    • How do I measure liquid medicine? Do I need to use a marked syringe? (If you’re prescribed liquid medicine.)
    • Can I have a list of side effects for this medicine? (So you can be better prepared if it does happen.)

Be an active member of your healthcare team

The best thing you can do is to be a part in every decision about your health care. Research shows that patients who are more involved with their care tend to get better results.


Institute of Medicine, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, American Nurse Today